Cover photo for Michael Francis Fredrickson's Obituary
Michael Francis Fredrickson Profile Photo
1945 Michael 2021

Michael Francis Fredrickson

May 9, 1945 — April 12, 2021

This heart of mine is made of silver. This heart of mine is made of gold. It will shine like candle, when your world is dark and cold.

Michael Francis Fredrickson passed away from cancer April 12, 2021 at St. Patrick's Hospital surrounded by his family. He was born in Butte, America, on May 9, 1945 to Raymond Fredrickson and Frances Gertrude Sullivan and grew up in Walkerville and Butte's East Side with his younger brother, Dan, and older sister, Raelene. He attended Sherman Elementary in Walkerville, Grant Elementary on the East Side and Butte High. Despite severe asthma, he was an active kid, playing sports and hunting and fishing with his dad and brother. He was always deeply proud of his Butte heritage.

It was while working at the psychiatric hospital in Warm Springs one summer that Mike became passionate about special education and disability rights. There were still many people being institutionalized for disabilities at that time--some with families who didn't have enough resources to support them, others who were abandoned. He was haunted by a child with Downs syndrome whose family never came to visit or ask about him, even after he died.

Mike studied at School of Mines and then moved to Missoula where he received a BA in psychology at the University of Montana.

In the Spring of 1969, he met Dayl Benish. She was hitchhiking with a friend at Garrison Junction near Butte when a VW bug pulled up with Mike in the passenger's seat. That summer Mike and Dayl made the youthful decision to go over the Milltown Dam in a raft--a harrowing incident in which they came out fairly unscathed, save for Mike's broken leg. It could have been worse, and it would be one of many adventures for them. They married that September and have been together ever since.

Mike and Dayl worked together at Boulder River School and Hospital for a year, where Mike was a school psychologist. His experiences at Warm Springs and Boulder compelled him to get an MA in special education at Eastern Montana College (now MSU Billings). The deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals and the movement for special education rights were in full effect--and Mike wanted to see kids with disabilities have a better life.

For 27 years, Mike worked as a special education teacher and administrator Missoula. He built trust with parents of special ed kids and was known for being honest when best practices weren't being met and proactive in making sure the schools did better. As a district representative in IDEA PTA ( the Special Education focused PTA ), Mike actively partnered and communicated with parents. Sometimes he took in students for days at a time into his own home, to provide respite for their caregiving families--and Mike's own children benefited from getting to know those kids.

Special education was relatively new when he first started, but he was a fierce advocate for getting special ed students integrated into mainstream schools--literally. Early on, his students had to meet in a class in separate housing across from Sentinel High School, but Mike often walked them across the street for lunch and insisted they be a part of school culture. He believed that they deserved to be a part of the community, too, and that the community would be enhanced by being a part of their lives. He was a leader in starting a vocational education program for students with disabilities where they could work jobs in the community.

In 2001, Mike was honored by the Montana PTA as an "Outstanding Educator" for his work with IDEA PTA. His death has left an enormous hole in the hearts of the parents of children with disabilities who were the recipients of his expertise and kindness and whose children benefited from his advocacy. And, like a good Butte guy, he was a strong advocate for teachers' rights. He was active in the biggest teachers strike in state history in 1982, and subsequently became president of the local teachers union (the MEA).

After retiring, he worked at the University of Montana for The Division of Educational Research and Service (DERS) on issues of bullying and school safety, and taught classes to special educators.

Dayl and Mike had two children, Leif and Erika, who grew up at the base of Mount Jumbo in a home where Mike and Dayl continued to live--building onto it and making it a little paradise their children and grandchildren enjoyed.

For the past 51 years, Mike and Dayl have traveled the world,first backpacking around Europe and then spending time in Egypt, Italy, Ireland, Alaska, Mexico, Czech Republic and Hawaii, among other places. In 1988, Mike got a chance to do a teacher's exchange in Australia and the whole Fredrickson family moved there for a year, swapping homes with the Trickeys, an Australian family. They made lifelong friends, many of whom visited the Fredricksons in Montana. In 2004 Mike and Dayl visited Sweden, staying with relatives of Mike's grandmother, Erika Fredrickson. The Fredrickson family has remained close with these Swedish relatives ever since.

Mike loved the great outdoors. He loved backpacking with his kids in the wilderness, camping out with cousins on family reunions, and trekking in the backcountry with his friend Wolf. As his father Ray had done with him, Mike took Erika and Leif fishing on Georgetown Lake, in both summer and winter. Every fall he could be found hunting with Leif, Erika, and his buddy Greg. He explored all over the state: from the Missouri River to Rock Creek, from Yellowstone Park to Glacier, from the Bitterroot Wilderness to the Bob, from the Bighole to the Highline, and many places beyond.

He also loved staying close to home with family, friends and pets. He planted a big garlic patch every year and tended home and community plots with Dayl. He snuggled with his cats in his chair and took his dogs on walks in Greenough Park. He was a dedicated experimental chef, and enjoyed dutch oven cooking, smoking meat, assembling pasties, and making game sausage with his son. He never tired of Double Front chicken. He liked a good IPA, but his favorite drink was coffee. He loved his coffee, all day long and into the evening. He had his first taste of coffee-a tiny cup-with his Swedish grandmother when he was 4 or 5. "Coffee?" Was the question he asked us often, and he was always happy to make it. He loved sharing the ritual of coffee drinking, which inevitably led to good conversation and laughter.

Family was everything to Mike. He loved playing games with them, eating with them, and playing guitar for them with Erika. His grandchildren adored him. He helped them with school twice a week, cooked the best oatmeal for them, played with them, and chased them while they screamed in joy. He talked with great fondness about the family he grew up with in Butte.

Mike is survived by his brother, Dan Fredrickson ( Barb), wife Dayl, daughter Erika (Dave Knadler), son Leif ( Katy Meinbresse), and beloved grandchildren Ruby, Axel, and Leo. He is also survived by his brother-in-law Jim Benish ( Barb) and much loved nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and sister Raelene.

Mike also had a wonderful group of friends. He played music with them, met twice a week with the "breakfast guys," and religiously hit the greens with his golfing buddies. He went on many adventures with his friend Dick, whom he always called "Richard the Lionhearted". And he delighted in working with his hands on a variety of projects with Dick and his other friend, Jim. He invented contraptions -- Red Green Show-style -- often with duct tape. On Harrison Street, too, he was a constantly friendly face, beloved by his neighbors.

Mike volunteered extensively – for tennis coaching, the Special Olympics, trail work with the Montana Wilderness Association, ASUM community gardens where he grew food for the Food Bank, the Teller Wildlife Refuge, and the Opportunity Resources Board, among others. He helped many people build and wire their houses.

Mike was a beacon of positivity and generosity. We will never forget the twinkle in his eye, his uplifting voice, and his kindness and love.

Donations in his memory can be made to Opportunity Resources, the Teller Wildlife Refuge, or the Missoula Education Foundation.

A celebration of Mike's life will be held on June 5th. Details to follow.
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